Picture this. Friday 30th January 2009. Eighteen determined students studying Carbon Accounting, working in a classroom full of computers, figuring out how to calculate carbon inventories for Australian businesses. No air conditioning, stinking hot and sweaty, with an inside temperature of 32C and an outside temperature of 45C. The third day in a row of maximum temperatures of over 43C.
Doesn’t that strike you as being just a little bit ironic? It did for me. I felt like I was trying to shut the gate after the horse had already bolted. Learning how to calculate carbon by the tonne so that households and businesses could reduce their carbon footprints. Maybe we have left our efforts a little too late? This heatwave is just another little part of the evidence that our climate in our part of the planet is changing quickly. 11 out of the last 12 years have been the hottest on record.
Here is the rub. Over the last three days of searing temps, the following things failed.
The Power grid
These major events happened as well.
Bushfires in Gippsland (East Victoria)
Water consumption skyrocketed
Road traffic increased 10 fold (due to failed Public Transport)
The wine industry lost 90% of the 2009 grape crop
0.8mm of rain for the month of January (lowest on record)
Now, these events are not ironic in themselves, they were just outcomes of a major heatwave, one that the greater Melbourne area has never experienced since weather records began in 1880. The ironic thing was the majority of peoples behaviour once the heatwave finished yesterday. The TV news was full of people angry at the government, public transport operators, and power companies.
So lets analyse this anger and see if it is miss-directed. The first question to ask is what causes climate change? Is the government? Well maybe a little, because they emit CO2-e like everyone else, but not the sole contributor of climate change. The ones at fault are everyone who leads a western lifestyle! That would be the majority of Australians. So don’t you think that the angry people should have a good look at themselves first.
Secondly, you can’t blame the public transport operators for the massive cancellations, basically because the suburban rail system was not designed to operate at temperatures over 40C. Our average January temperature is usually 26C. Railway tracks buckle at these extremes, and they did, which caused massive delays. Brakes on engines aren’t designed to work in sweltering heat, and they didn’t. Electric trains don’t run when there is no electricity, and neither do the signals for diesel locos either. So what did most people do on day 2 and 3 of the heatwave? They drove their cars to work. Do you think anyone carpooled? Hell no. Not even I, because no one I knew was going my way, so I was also to blame for the larger than usual traffic congestion. It took me two hours to get to Uni on Friday, when it normally take just 50 minutes.
Thirdly, you also can’t blame the government for the power grid failing. Yes, the Premier of Victoria, the Honourable Mr Brumby might have said on Monday that the grid will be able to handle a few days of hot weather, but it was not his fault that every Tom, Dick, and Harry decided to turn their air conditioners on pushing the grid to breaking point, instead of investing in insulation, awnings and ceiling fans to keep their homes cool. And break it did. At about 1800 on Friday afternoon a major substation blew up at South Morang that supplied to major transmission lines to the western part of the state. Over half a million consumers were without power for at least four hours at the height of the heat.
Do you think this anger was misdirected. I do! Everyone has a choice, and most seam to be making the wrong ones.
So what about solutions. Well here is one that would solve most of the issues.
Just think of this scenario which is definitely and squarely in the governments court. A 1 kW Solar PV system of every homes roof top, generating at least 25% of each homes electricity need. This electricity will be generated where it is needed most, and not via distributed via substations and transmission lines. Maybe if all this locally generated power was being pumped into the local grid, substations wouldn’t overheat and explode from overuse. I don’t know, I may be out on a limb here, but if feed-in tariff was just a little more (a lot more) attractive to the average householder, then this scenario could become a reality. This scenario would also go a long way to helping reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, by offsetting our reliance on brown coal fired electricity generation. We might also go quite a way to setting an example to others and could avert the climate chaos that is quickly approaching us.
To cap all of this off, the rainfall that we so desperately need is nowhere in sight. My rainwater tank is nearly dry, and the vegetable patch is a former shadow of itself. During the heat I lost 5 tomato plants, hundreds of sun-burnt tomatoes on other vines, two cucumber plants, 6 sweetcorn plants, and most of a hedge out the front. Amazingly, or more to my hard work, the rest of the garden survived. I can certainly believe that our water supply for the city is getting near to critical. Not as bad as no 2009 vintage from the majority of Victorian vineyards! Now that is a sorry state of affairs!
I truly hope that Melbourne does not become the first major Australian city to run out of drinking water. Now that would be one for the books. What would happen to the angry people then? Who would they blame? Where would they go?
Possibly a behaviour or reality check is in order. There are lessons to be learnt from the events of this past week. But, alas, these are lessons that will not sink in, and the opportunity will most probably pass us by. The hot weather will be a distant memory, now that it is becoming cooler, and the necessary solutions will not be implemented. Consumption in all things crappy will not abate. We will wait until it happens again next summer and complain until it this weather pattern is the norm. And of course our parliamentary ostriches, with their heads in the sand, will continue to fight for the status quo. Corporate greed before morality. Sounds the wrong way around to me!
I will leave you with a quote that always gives me hope when I read it. I hope it does for you as well.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead.